Ready for takeoff? Bears need to unleash Khalil Mack (& Co.) attack vs. Vikes

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins didn’t want to make it all about Khalil Mack, either.

“Football’s a game of momentum and emotion and when you get a player of that caliber it certainly helps in that regard to get your defense going,” Cousins said in his weekly press conference Wednesday. “But at the same time, they have good players all over the yard.

“I have a great deal of respect for their defensive coordinator, coach [Vic] Fangio. They’re statistically ranked very high and I think that goes beyond the addition of one player.”

Momentum and emotion — that’s what the Bears’ showdown with the Vikings on Sunday night at Soldier Field is all about. With three consecutive convincing victories and Mack back in havoc-wreaking form, the Bears have momentum. But getting the emotional edge — playing frenzied, physical  football against a team that’s every bit as good as they are, if not better, is a tricky thing.

Against the Bills and Lions, the Bears seemed to play at an imposing-their-will physical level that marked Fangio’s defenses with the 49ers. With Mack returning to a group he’s familiar with and rookie Roquan Smith “getting better and better every day and not just every game” — as Fangio put it — it seems to all be coming together. Is this defense ready to take the next step?

“I understand fans are going to be very excited to see us get after these guys,” Mack said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Mack might not be as effusive as Akiem Hicks — “I like to let my play talk for me. That’s the type of guy I am,” he said. But he plays with a relentless aggressiveness that revs up the home crowd and has a contagious emotional impact on the entire defense. That’s the recipe for success against the Vikings.

“We’d like the crowd to be as loud as they can and help us out as much as they can,” Fangio said. “But it’s been my experience [that] the colder it gets, the less loud it gets as some of these stadiums.”

With Mack leading the way, the Bears have to reach another level in this one. And still leave room to reach even higher levels against the Rams (Dec. 9 at Soldier Field), Packers (Dec. 16 at Soldier Field and Vikings again (Dec. 30 at U.S. Bank Stadium).

“Emotion is a good part of it,” Mack said. “But you can never get too high and you can never get too low. It’s a long season. It’s going to be a long game on. Sunday. Just gotta play it one play at a time and it’ll take care of itself.”

Hicks gives coach Matt Nagy credit for keeping the team on a workable emotional leash that keeps the big picture in focus. After Sunday night’s game, the Bears play the Lions on Thanksgiving Day. And they still have five regular-season games after that.

“Nagy does a great job of, ‘Don’t peak too soon,’” Hicks said. “That’s his mantra all week — especially in this time frame when we have all these divisional games. ‘Don’t peak. Don’t peak.’”

That’s an approach that resonates with Hicks — and presumably others.

“My old high school coach said you treat these games like boiling water,” Hicks said. “You get to the day of the game, put the pot on the stove and put the water in. As the games’ coming up, it starts to bubble a little bit. And by the time the game starts, that [stuff] should be bubbling out. But you still have to control yourself.”


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